Written 9/1/12 by Marina - When we set out on our trip from Cusco to visit World Connect's projects in Tuti, I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited. Our drive lasted eight hours, the first half on single lane paved roads, and the rest on dirt roads that were spotted with rocks from recent rockslides and herds of alpaca. We drove through many small and poor villages, past dozens of local indigenous people hitchhiking to and from work, hundreds of stray cats and dogs, and across expanses of desert plain, which is known as the altiplano and looks a lot like the moon. Most of the drive was at an altitude above 12,000 feet, so I had altitude sickness, which they call soroche, most of the time.
The 8 hour drive finally came to an end and we arrived in Tuti, a village of around 500 people right at the bottom of a valley at 13,000 feet with a slow river running through it. The village is built around a classic plaza with wooden benches and plane trees. Most of the homes are made from adobe mud and have dirt or tile floors. At arrival, we were greeted by a Peace Corps Volunteer named Amber. She had studied at Villanova in the U.S. and had spent the past year working in Chivay, a nearby town, where she helps small business owners to develop their businesses. She brought us to the home of Narcisa, who built the first of Tuti's four greenhouses funded by World Connect grants.
I would say Narcisa is around 45 years old, though it was difficult to tell her age. She was dressed in traditional, colorful Quechuan Indian clothing and had a baby strapped to her back who might have been her child or her grandchild. She had bright eyes and a broad smile and she met us enthusiastically on the dirt road that leads from the village plaza along the river to her adobe house. To get to the actual greenhouse, we had to pass the house and the family's cow penned up by the front door and cross around 50 feet of earth that was so dry it seemed impossible for anything to grow in it. Like the house, the greenhouse is built near the edge of a steep bank leading down to the river around 20 feet below.
The greenhouse is a simple and neat structure made from adobe bricks with a yellow plastic roof covering it, which lets some sun in while maintaining the building at a constant temperature. We ducked into a 4 foot high opening which functions as a door. What I saw amazed me; a large room filled with green plants growing. With no questions asked, Narcisa started explaining to us with excitement that the harvest, the greenhouse's second, had been successful. She was able to grow lots of healthy lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs successfully. The first harvest had been a challenge due to the lack of water to nourish the plants. I asked why since the river flows right past the greenhouse. She explained that the quality of the river water is not good because villagers upstream pollute the water, and there's a mine that puts chemical waste there too. To solve the water problem, she dug a well, which provided her with a water supply. The only plant that didn't grow well in this harvest was the squash, but Narcisa was confident it would do better the following year.
She explained to us that growing vegetables in Tuti without a greenhouse is very difficult for most of the year because of the dry climate, and buying them is too expensive. So people survive on potatoes and occasionally cow or alpaca meat. She was very aware of the importance of vegetables in one's diet, especially for children and wanted to provide that for her community. She told us that the greenhouse allowed her to harvest four times a year, and she planned on distributing the crops to her family and community, and selling the excess. Narcisa was clearly a community leader and her main ambitions were to improve the quality of life for her family and her village. She herself had not received much formal education but she figured out a way to send her daughter to Arequipa, the provincial capital, to study. She was also the only provider of vegetables in her village at present and was very hopeful that her greenhouse would serve as a model to other villagers and they would grow their own vegetables. She was very grateful to World Connect for providing funding for the greenhouse. Before leaving to visit the next greenhouse, Narcisa treated us to some of her homemade cheese and gave us all a hug.
From there we visited the other greenhouses in Tuti, none of which were yet as developed as Narcisa's. They were all constructed but not yet producing plants and facing the same issue of finding a water supply. The second greenhouse was owned by a school teacher named Hitalo who is also the Project Leader for World Connect's Leyendo Aprendo Comprender, or Reading I Learn to Understand program. He showed us the library that was financed by World Connect and explained that he and the other teachers had filled the library with hundreds of volumes that are used to teach the local children. Hitalo was a community leader as well, concerned with the health and education of his village and full of ideas. He told us that once he started producing plants in his greenhouse, he would use it for food and to teach his students about food and nutrition. We then visited a third greenhouse, which was hidden behind a small deli and was not yet growing edible plants but was growing beautiful flowers.
Everything I saw that day in Tuti really amazed me. First, the realization of the impact we had made on the lives of these people with such a simple and small contribution to their community. Second, that these people, who had very limited education and resources, were so motivated to improve the lives of fellow villagers.